Thiel Audio TT1 loudspeaker Page 2

A large, thick, unpadded rug covers most of the hardwood floor in the listening space, and the wall behind my chair is covered in shelves filled with books and discs of various types. I've installed acoustic panels and additional rugs in the adjoining areas to further tame the acoustic.

While the listening space, so treated—an ongoing project!—is far from dead, music played there has, for me, a pleasingly spacious quality, without obvious reverb or flutter echo. Bass support is good, if less dramatic than in my prior, fully enclosed 25' by 15.5' by 8' room with its lath-and-plaster walls. But it's also less even than I'd ideally prefer for two-channel sound unassisted by a subwoofer and/or room equalization. (With these speakers and others—welcome to the real world!)

Except where noted, I drove the Thiel TT1s full-range with two-channel sources, using an Integra DTC-9.8 7.1-channel preamplifier-processor primarily as a 2.0-channel preamp in its Direct mode. While a Jeff Rowland Design Group Consummate analog preamplifier was also available, the slightly more open top and tighter bass of the newer Integra (both models were discontinued long ago) better suits the system and room as a whole, and that's what I used for most of my time with the Thiels. A new high-end pre-pro is due to be installed soon, but I stayed with the Integra for this review because I'm fully familiar with its setup, operation, and sound.


The power amp was a Proceed AMP5. I used only two of its five channels of amplification, each of which is driven by a completely separate power supply and transformer. The Proceed originated, in 1998, from the House of Mark Levinson in its early years under Harman International—I like to think of it as a Levinson Lite. While its specified output of 125Wpc into 8 ohms is modest by today's standards (the AMP5 was discontinued in 2003), it easily enough drove the Thiels as loudly as I desired—and the music required—in my room. The source was a Marantz UD7007 Smart 3D universal Blu-ray player, connected to the Integra with a coaxial digital cable. I mostly listened to CDs, but for the occasional two-channel SACD I used the Rowland preamp connected to the UD7007's analog output (the Integra's main weakness is its analog sound).

Before doing any listening, serious or otherwise, I broke in the Thiel TT1s for about 100 hours with pink noise.

My current area, large overall and slightly livelier than the norm, doesn't allow quite as precise a soundstage as did my previous space, which was smaller, more enclosed, and heavily damped. But despite that and some of my above comments about design philosophy, the Thiel TT1s produced wide, deep, and convincingly detailed images.

For example, the sound of the chorus in John Rutter's Requiem, in the recording by Timothy Seelig and the Turtle Creek Chorale (CD, Reference RR-57CD), came off exceptionally well, the group realistically spread out between the speakers (but not beyond them—a quality I feel is more often an artifact of the speakers and room than something in a recording just waiting to be reproduced). In some passages, the Thiels also resolved individual voices within the chorus. This recording can also provide a compelling sense of depth, and at this the TT1s were equally impressive.

Arne Domnérus and Gustaf Sjökvist's Antiphone Blues (CD, Proprius PRCD 7744) is a superb recording of saxophone and pipe organ in the highly ambient SpÜnga Church, a 12th-century sanctuary in Tensta, Sweden. The odd pairing of instruments works in a program that encompasses everything from hymns, blues, spirituals, and jazz to Schumann and Vivaldi. The Thiels did an outstanding job of fully capturing the church's deep, rich acoustic. While Domnérus's alto saxophone does sound unrealistically huge, that's certainly down to the mix and the acoustic. The only thing the Thiels didn't fully capture was the weight in the lowest reaches of the organ (more on this later)—but they did a good job of concealing this deficiency.

On their I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray (CD, Warner Bros. 46698-2), the five (yes, five) singers of the Fairfield Four were spread out convincingly from left to right, though image spread was a bit enlarged and less precise in the songs in which the singers are most closely miked. But again, that appears to be a recording choice. And if those closely recorded solo voices (mostly bass-baritone, particularly on "These Bones") were a bit too prominent, the Thiels properly conveyed each singer's unique style and vocal texture. Overall, on this and other good recordings, I had no reservations about the TT1's ability to put forth natural-sounding reproductions of male and female voices without coloration.

The TT1 also produced a wealth of unexaggerated detail. Dean Peer's Travelogue (CD, Fahrenheit FR2451) sounded fast and crisp, but with a natural overall balance. Everything here—from the transients of Dean's electric bass and its rich warmth, the percussion, and the "Hello, pretty girl" from a "parrot" that begins the final track—was convincingly rendered.

One thing about the TT1 that struck me was that it didn't seem to reproduce all recordings with the same sonic signature, as do some speakers—and rooms. Fortunately, the better ones don't; they do their best to re-recreate what's on the recordings. And while no speakers do this perfectly, the closer they come, the better. I can't think of many words to ascribe a "characteristic sound" to the TT1: bright, dull, nasal, boxy, bloated, overly dynamic, showy—none fit. I have to limit myself to smooth yet detailed, uncolored (particularly with well-recorded voices), and tight, somewhat lean bass.

It was the TT1's bass that was my main concern. Not its tightness—audiophiles pine for that—but the leanness. Remember, no reviewer can tell you exactly what a speaker will sound like in your room, only what it sounds like in his or hers—and my listening area is very large. But all of us have to deal with room modes. The upside of that is that, in my space, the inevitable modes weren't as intrusive with the Thiels as they can be with speakers having a more extended bottom end. The TT1's true frequency response might be inherently flat and fairly extended—I'll await John Atkinson's measurements to settle this—but in my room, bass boom was never a problem with these speakers.

Some listeners prefer that sort of well-defined, unaggressive bass. Bass was never obviously lacking in my room, but I could hear when it wasn't quite up to the best I've enjoyed here. Perhaps this was a result of the TT1's small internal volume—or of a deliberate design choice to minimize the inevitable negative impact of most listening-room modes.

This won't trouble all of you. For those it does, and for those whose large rooms offer no cure, there's always the option of adding a subwoofer (or, better yet, two). I did try the TT1s with Revel's long-discontinued Performa B15 subwoofer. For this I used the B15's three channels of built-in parametric equalization, but none of the EQ offered by the Integra preamp-processor (graphic EQ, tone controls, Audyssey MultEQ XT) except for its high/low-pass filter, here set to 100Hz. Indeed, one of the reasons I used the Integra was its ability to switch between its Direct (subwoofer and all extraneous circuitry switched off) and Stereo (subwoofer and high/low-pass filter in circuit) modes with the push of a single button on the remote. This made possible direct A/B comparisons from the listening seat.

Without going into extensive detail (subwoofered TT1s are not the subject of this review): A good subwoofer did improve the TT1's top-to-bottom balance. But with most music it was hard to hear any differences in the bass when I switched in the sub—which was as it should be. There was a subtle and sometimes meaningful loss of top-end air with the subwoofer and the pre-pro's filter engaged. One workaround for this when listening to music would be to drive the Thiels full-range and use a sub's internal low-pass filter. But that approach can make it trickier in some situations to optimally blend a subwoofer with the main channels.

My comparisons were limited to the only current speaker model I had on hand: Monitor Audio's Silver 10 (footnote 2). The Monitor Silver 10 offers a bit more air on top than the Thiel TT1—perhaps this was a simple matter of a slightly elevated mid- and top-treble response. The Thiel was a bit more forward in the lower treble and midrange, but these differences, too, were subtle. The two pairs of speakers produced soundstages equally impressive in width and depth, though the Monitor's extra bit of top-end air subtly enhanced depth with low-level music, such as the quieter passages in Rutter's Requiem.

An obvious difference between the two designs was at the bottom end. While the TT1 underperformed a bit down low, the Silver 10 was occasionally a little too eager to chomp into a deep-bass riff. I didn't dislike this; with a good recording of pipe organ or drums, and without a sub, I often heard more at the bottom end from the Monitors than from the Thiels. The Silver 10s captured more of the organ underpinning the chorus in at least a few passages of the Rutter Requiem and some of his other works on that disc. The Monitors were also better than the Thiels at reproducing the big Japanese drums on recordings by the taiko drumming troupe Kodo, both in the drums' initial transient impact and the way in which the sound from the body of the instrument reverberated back into the recording space.

But in some ways, the Thiel TT1s chalked up points for not overdoing it. They also seemed less prone to a subtle smearing that may originate in the Monitors' more lively cabinets, though this happened rarely and never troubled me. Though neither speaker is a shy wallflower, some listeners might find the Silver 10s a bit more eager to please overall—perhaps too eager.

In the above comparison, the unmentioned elephant in the room is cost. The Monitor Audio Silver 10 retails for $2498/pair—considerably less than half the price of the Thiel TT1. This is at least partially due to the fact that the Silver 10 is made entirely in China; Thiel uses more expensive US labor to assemble the TT1, and drivers from Scandinavia; only the TT1's cabinet is made in Asia. Beyond that, however, the TT1 faces formidable competition in the $5000–$7000 range from the likes of GoldenEar Technology (Triton One), KEF (R Series), Revel (Performa 3), Sonus Faber (Venere), and more than a few others.

But the TT1 makes its case without apologies. It won't dominate a small space, and its honest sound can satisfy even in a very large space over long listening sessions. It deserves a very careful audition.

Footnote 2: Thomas J. Norton reviewed the see Monitor Audio Silver 10 for our sister magazine Sound&Vision. Stereophile hasn't reviewed the Silver 10, but we did review the similar, if slightly smaller, Silver 8 in January 2015.—John Atkinson
Thiel Audio Products Co.
566 Mainstream Drive, Suite 500
Nashville, TN 37228
(615) 913-8532

DaveinSM's picture

hmmm, it sure seems to me that Thiel is banking on its high end reputation to charge a premium for speakers that look like PSBs with fancy wood veneers. Jim Thiel's designs may have been "idiosyncratic", but they sure sounded good to me. Besides, I just couldn't bring myself to spend seven grand on a small floorstander that seems to need a good sub or two to be gratifyingly full range.

findcount's picture're right about the PSBs.......the drivers look cheap to me.......

Anton's picture

So, they ditched Thiel's designs, brought in Mark Mason and then parted ways with him...and have a 'name' with no continuity of design philosophy or driver manufacturing infrastructure.

Basically, the have paid for brand name nostalgia at this point.

Venere's picture

Clearly banking on brand recognition. Happens all the time in other industries. In the high-end automotive world look no further than Bugatti, Bentley, and Lamborghini, now all owned by VW Group and designed and built by various international teams. Thiel probably aren't setting any sales records (in fact I would be very surprised if they survive in this ultra-competitive market), but I bet they're doing better than if they were marketing the new "Mason TT1".

mallred's picture

Great headline Anton! In the 90's, I owned 4 different models from CS-6's to 1's. I enjoyed them all at the time and think they tried hard to advance the hobby. The new version of the company needs to hurry up and go out of business...

mikerr's picture

I don't know how I ever came upon Thiel speakers but I just love them.
I started out with the 04a's back in the olden days ( I still have them)...I also have and have had several sets of other model Thiels.
Not too long ago I scored a pair of 1.7's (which to me are more related to the 3.7's than even the 2.7 due to it's folded piston driver). The 1.7 I believe was an affordable ($4000) mishmash of the 3.7 and 2.7 that was put together right after Jim Thiel passed-away.
I feel that my 1.7's are 'the' Last TRUE Thiel speaker and Wow do they sound AMAZING !!!
The new Thiels seem so disappointing, of course the Legacy was broken when the blueprints were thrown out. If I were in the market for a High end speaker I would seek out one of the 3 Thiels I've mentioned here. buy according to how much you can spend. I bought my 1.7's on ebay for 1/3rd of the original cost and I guarantee you these guys are "Special".
I've been watching several sets of the NEW Thiel company's speakers on ebay and none of them are even getting a minimum bid at auction end, while Jim Thiel designs are selling well ...for good reason.
My 1.7's have 'life' and 'focus'. It is a thrill to come home to these every night.

Coalpedlar's picture

I still have an old pair od CS-2's.
They still sound great with the proper equipment driving them...

DanGB's picture

Imagine if someone bought out Martin-Logan, and immediately phased out the electrostatic speakers from the range, or if Tannoy had new owners who ditched the dual-concentric drivers.

These speakers may be good, they may be not, but one thing they aren't is Thiels.

DaveinSM's picture

The Thiel website has been static for quite some time now, and even their facebook presence has been pretty much silent lately. It's like nothing is happening over there in those fancy new Tennessee offices. It's sad, really. I think that the same thing has happened to a lesser degree over at Krell. Cheaper designs at higher prices to cash in on the name recognition. Except for the super high end, it seems like high end audio is declining.

Allen Fant's picture

Another happy Thiel owner here (CS2.4 SE).
Excellent overview- TJN.

Allen Fant's picture

Wise man- DaveinSM.
Krell is in the same boat, so to speak.

John Atkinson's picture
Allen Fant wrote:
Krell is in the same boat, so to speak.

I understand that Rondi D'Agostino, one of Krell's founders and Dan's ex-wife, has bought out the owners and is now running the company again.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

findcount's picture

in terms of sound quality, Krell has been surpassed by many other brands even from the 90's.......their new amps look cheap on the outside and inside.......

Sfdoddsy's picture

Whilst the review is competent, and the measurement are as always enlightening, surely this is a missed opportunity.

As the comments above indicate, there is a lot of love for Thiel speakers. To not compare the new Gainst the old, given the vast differences in design philosphy, seems like a real letdown.

The design and measurements do seem closer to a traditional Toole PSB/Revel/Paradigm speaker than previous Thiel first order concentric iterations.

So give us that comparison rather than an anodyne set of MAs

yuckysamson's picture

I apologize in advance if this comes off as some kind of hi-fi snobbery or the like, but that being said, I'm confused about a few details of the system and set-up used to evaluate the speakers.

Obviously Mr. Norton is a professional and a great reviewer, but it strikes me as a bit odd to use the Integra surround piece as the 2-channel pre-amp, as well as the DAC (a giveaway that it's not up to the task is that when using the Marantz' built in dac the Rowland pre-amp was better suited). Also just the digital front end in general, you'd kind of expect some higher-end digital source (even streaming roon to a Hugo or something of that nature, take your pick, benchmark, Auralic, Ayre, etc.) to a proper two channel pre-amp, and I'll leave the proceed out of this because it's capable, (although to some a solid two 5-10k, 2-channel power amp would be more appropriate) but suffice it to say it's also not a piece that a lot of people considering these speakers would be using similar electronics. Basically is this the "right road for the rubber"?

It also smacks a bit that Mr. Norton chose to use neither the spikes nor the feet. Excuse my raised-in-a-british-hi-fi-store-mentality, but this can make a significant difference to the entirely of the loudspeaker's output.

On the other hand it is comforting to see someone reviewing these Thiels with 'down to earth' mentality and products, but if we're talking dollars-for-dollars, there are better front and middle ends up to the task.

It's tough to discern from this review how the speaker really stands up to anything, I'm not surprised that it faired 6one/half-dozen-other against the Montior Audios. If, however, the same A/B demo was done in a more modest room, with a (and I'm just riffing here) Rega RP6 TT, a viable tube integrated (take your pick) and some select cabling, AND the spikes and set-up done perhaps more carefully, AND the other HT elements removed from the room, I'd suspect that the differences, regardless of which was better or worse, to the monitor audios, would have been significantly more pronounced, more defineable.

I'm just surprised as this isn't the typical associated equipment from a STEREOPHILE review list.

findcount's picture

they used an AV amp so the speakers won't look too bad to readers........whenever a review only has 2-3 pages and only 1/4 of it is on the sound know the product is a bomb

virgum's picture

The mediocre wallmart world emblem product-TT1, the run for almighty profit for the share holder even if you throw away genius.
Happy owner of CS 2.3 driven by a Halo a 21.Nothing ever auditioned,including speakers with the price of a car a piece compares in naturalness,accuracy and imaging.Advice for owners to get all these wonders can do;change the electrolytic caps,(there are 3 in crossover,each-100uf,I changed them with mundorf electrolytics +-5% for 3$ each),the surround rubber and the composite used in between the mids and highs as crossover,visible as aluminium dome surround tend to get dry and lose the properties over time(all of them by now) so to fix this use a fine brush and something to revive the rubber and plastics like product for auto dashboard once a month.You wont believe your ears!

eriks's picture


There's absolutely nothing wrong with your measurements, or your microphone. :) JA I'm sure will jump in, but he's going for quasi-anechoic, while OmniMic is gated, far field.

The OmniMic plots are great, and show overall very neutral speakers devoid of gimmicks. My experience with Monitor Audio is similar lately. Never done this with Thiel. Look up the Bruel & Kjaer recommended curves, and you'll notice the measurements you took are fairly well aligned.



Sea Otter's picture

...And look at the measured performance of the loudspeaker. The data here shows performance in fundamental design parameters far beyond that shown by any Wilson, Magico, Marten, or YG, at any price point, that has been tested by Stereophile (or any other independent third party that I am aware of.)

It appears that Mr. Mason is no longer with Thiel, which seems a shame, as they have definitely lost one of the most talented loudspeaker designers out there.

While I sympathize with the posters who seem dissapointed about the departure from thiels legacy by the new management team (Teams?) And share their reservations about the future of the brand, I would like to raise a glass in respect to the excellence of Mason's design.

Well done, sir.

eriks's picture

If you are experimenting with OmniMic, take some compression measurements as well. Those will really start to open up your eyes and ears.

Seriously, I think you'll find compression, or lack of it, to correlate very well with relaxed and open sounding. Compression often explains why you may hear a speaker not match the measured FR.



findcount's picture

a 2-page review for such a famous brand's USD7K speakers.....and only 1/4 of the review on the sound quality itself speak volumes for the new Thiel.......just looking at the speakers' drivers, you can tell it's the beginning of the end........